Gilder Lehrman Brings History to Life for Teachers and Students in Kansas
Students from the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Program examine manuscripts
at the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library (June, 2009).
History classes on Saturday? Definitely, say Kansas students and teachers who fill professional development seminars and Saturday Academies underwritten by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute promotes the love of American history through seminars, publications, traveling exhibits, and its collection of more than 60,000 original documents that detail the political and social history of the United States. These documents, spanning 1493 to the present, are easily accessible to the public via an online database. They are also at the heart of the Teacher Seminars and Saturday Academies that Gilder Lehrman conducts at locations ranging from Harvard University to the Santa Fe, New Mexico Public Schools.
"It's important for Americans to understand the principles upon which our country was founded," says Susan Addington, community relations manager for the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation. "Gilder Lehrman's focus on original source documents and archives provides a unique opportunity for teachers and students to experience our nation's heritage, history, and how they apply in today's world."
The Gilder Lehrman seminars in Wichita, Kan., feature prominent historians, professors and other authorities who spend a day with teachers, often following a community forum the previous evening. In 2010, Gilder Lehrman and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation hosted Dr. Robert Lawson, associate professor of economics and business at Aurburn University and co-author of the widely cited Economic Freedom of the World annual report. Previous speakers who have discussed a range of topics from property rights to capitalism include Dr. Bart Wilson, economics and law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.; Dr. Richard Epstein, law professor at the University of Chicago; and Dr. Robert Hessen, business and economic historian and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Following the lecture, Anthony Napoli, Gilder Lehrman's director of education, guides teachers in creating lesson plans using the historical documents referenced by the speaker. "We want to move away from a didactic approach and show teachers how to use the primary source documents to encourage research and critical thinking among students," says Napoli.
For example, in his seminar on the 1960s, Dr. Michael Flamm, a history professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, discussed historical events from liberal, conservative and radical perspectives. In another seminar on the 1930s, documents, music and photographs were incorporated. "Using primary source documents is wonderful for the kids," says Stephanie Kruse, a history teacher at South High School in Wichita, Kan. "It takes them outside the textbook and asks them to come up with their own viewpoint."
"Teachers say it's inspiring to look at the historical documents," says Chris Kemp, who teaches honors and advanced placement history at Heights High School in Wichita. "They also appreciate the opportunity to discuss ideas with peers and build a network of teachers sharing resources."
Saturday Academies for Students
Since 2006, approximately 200 students have participated annually in Wichita's Gilder Lehrman Saturday Academy. The program offers five to six 80-minute classes focusing on topics such as civil rights, economics in American history, and American cinema. Similar to the Teacher Seminars, Saturday Academies feature primary source documents, film, music and other materials.
James Craven, a 2009 graduate of Heights High School, attended his first Academy as a sophomore and has returned every year. "The longer class time and the targeted topic allow teachers to really go in-depth and be a lot more specific," he says. "In the Race Relations class, the teacher used artifacts from the different eras, copies of articles and videos."
"They kept coming up with interesting classes," adds Ryan Doberer, another 2009 Heights graduate and three-year participant. "There were always new offerings."
The Teacher Seminars and Saturday Academies have been enthusiastically received. "We have overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and students," says Kemp. "The teachers return year after year and the number of students participating has increased. The teachers really like interacting in a more relaxed environment with highly motivated kids."